The word protest in itself is ambiguous. Protest can range from individual protest (wife vs husband), group protest (workers vs employer) to public protest (citizens vs their government). In general terms protest refers to an expression of bearing witness on behalf of an express cause by words or actions with regard to particular events, policies or situations.
Public protest which is our focus in this write up is defined by the Oxford dictionary as A Public demonstration of a strong objection to an official policy or course of action.
Minority movements around the world hold public protest or mass demonstrations as a great asset in pushing through their agenda.
Some significant public protests in the world
- The Gandhi’s Salt March (1930)
Mahatma Gandhi one of the world’s greatest rights activists thought for India a possible way to end British colonial authority over his country. At this time Indians could only get salt from Britain though they could get the basic commodity free from the sea.
To avoid paying the British tax on salt, Gandhi decided to get his own salt from the sea as was the case before colonial rule. He walked 240 miles over the course of 24 days and was joined by a growing number of followers.
As a result, Gandhi was jailed, but the protest drew national attention to his cause creating widespread national tendencies to ward off colonial rule. Gandhi’s salt March is on record as the bedrock to India’s independence on 15 August 1947.
- Breaking British rule | 17 March 1919 | Cairo
To break British rule over their country, more than 10,000 teachers, students, workers, lawyers, and government employees set out to the streets of Al Azhar in Cairo – Egypt’s biggest demonstration. This was triggered by the British arrest of Egyptian leaders.
The British responded with violence. By summer, more than 800 Egyptians had been killed. But the movement was too strong to be repressed and in 1922 the British had to grant Egypt nominal independence.
- The March on Washington
By 1963, African Americans went out to the streets of Washington to protest against inequality on jobs and freedoms. More than 200,000 supporters turned out to push lawmakers to pass legislation that addressed these inequalities.
It is during this famous March on Washington that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the most famous speech in American history, “I Have a Dream” The protest march is credited for building support to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the US.
- The Southern Cameroons March for independence/October 1st, 2017
Sisiku Ayuk Tabe the appointed interim president of Ambazonia Governing Council gave a symbolic declaration of the restoration of independence for the former British Southern Cameroons thereof christened the “Federal Republic of Anbazonia” on the 1st of October 2017.
It is estimated that over a million English speaking Cameroonians took the streets of all the major towns and villages in the North and South west regions of Cameroon to celebrate this independence.
The march included little children as young as six and grandmothers as old as 80 chanting freedom songs with peace plants.
The government responded with a military crackdown on unarmed civilians employing tear gas, water cannons, and even live bullets to disperse the Monmouth crowd.
According to official findings from Hon Member of Parliament Joseph Wirba, 122 people were killed, 150 people declared missing and 1,894 persons injured as a result of direct gunshots and torture during October 1st and September 22 peaceful demonstrations.
The October 1 March for independence is on record to have given a different phase of political awareness to the Anglophone struggle in Cameroon. Since then it has morphed into an armed struggle where “Ambazonians seek to defend their land”
In recent times African countries have witnessed several protests on the socio-economic situations of their economies some examples include:
- The 2012 fuel protests in Nigeria,
- The political society-led protests in Sudan that broke out in September 2013 and
- Uganda’s Walk to Work movement.
Professor of Political science and international studies Zachariah Mampilly posits that “new political visions are emerging in Africa…ongoing protests show that African people are engaged in projects to transform society and state from within”
Meaning/significance of public protest to minority movements
- Show prove of popularity of their course
A well mobilized public protest goes a long way to draw national and international attention to the ordeal of minority movements or groups. Factors taken into consideration here are the number of protesters, the composition of protesters and the time of protest.
- Pass out their message
Public protests are very significant to minority/libeartion movements as they use it to pass out their message or propagate their ideology.
This is often done through the instruments of protest such as: protest songs, well designed placards, protest banners, flags, load speakers, symbolic ribbons, T-shirts and any other instrument that can carry a message significant to their demand.
- Counter the obvious narrative
In most cases, liberation/minority movements will take to the streets to counter the obvious narrative.
This is because the accused which may be an oppressive government, a Multinational cooperation, an international body or a national leader may be believed to have set out a wrong public opinion through political agenda setting perceived as against the realistic situation of the minority.
The minority leaders will then seek a possible way to counter and influence public opinion through a well-planned and organize public demonstration.
All in all public protest is a component of a democracy. Mass protest could bring about positive and negative impact.
The Various forms of self-expression and protest are sometimes restricted by governmental policy (such as the requirement of protest permits) economic circumstances, religious orthodoxy, social structures, or media monopoly.
One state reaction to protests is the use of riot police. Though to a minimal degree, public protests have brought about significant changes in state policies, institutional structures and the growth in Economies. What is your thought?